Is Drug Addiction Really a Disease?

Of those selected at random for treatment, 95 percent accepted the first injection of the opiate antagonist, 86 percent the second, 78 the third, 73 the fourth, 65 the fifth and 61 the sixth. The treatment part of the trial did not extend beyond the 24th week, but it is highly probable that, if it had, a smaller and smaller proportion of the eligible would have continued it – simply because they wouldn’t have wanted to continue it. This automatically reduces the value of the experimental ‘treatment,’ so-called.

Of those given the active ‘treatment,’ 71.1 percent managed at least one period of two weeks without taking illicit opiates, whereas only 49.5 percent of controls did so. But two weeks free of illicit opiates is hardly a high bar, a triumph of the will. Moreover, a year after the ‘treatment’ was stopped, all difference between the experimental and control group had evaporated.

But there is yet worse. As far as I can tell, the control group received no sham injection, so that the members of both the experimental and control groups knew exactly to which group they had been assigned, as did the experimenters assessing the results. In a ‘condition’ (if that is what heroin addiction is) in which psychology plays so large a part, this is no very slight criticism or caveat. It vitiates the whole experiment.

This scientific failing would render the results moot, except from one possible point of view, that of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which must justify its budget somehow or other. The fact is that in the modern world activity is often mistaken for progress.